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Anthropology Department Blog

What Is Anthropology To Me?

Posted: December 12th, 2019 by tmares

Written and recorded by: Bronywn Caswell-Riday

I put on the glasses and I see the world in technicolor, brilliant and rich and deep for what feels like the first time. And somehow every time is the first time; I’m seeing through every possible lens at once and I feel like I’ve known you forever. Like I’ve known the other, like I am the other, I see myself reflected in the other and the glasses become a mirror. It’s intimate, and intimacy exhibits our best features and exposes our darkest attributes and secrets. To see the world so brilliantly is an ethical dilemma, a question with no answer; the glasses are the answer to questions you didn’t even know you had but they are also the question itself, and to look through them is to understand so deeply at the cost of knowing you will never know fully. I wear the glasses and I see millennia in minutia, I see a method by which I can agree to disagree and a means by which we are imprisoned and entrapped and enticed and free and this is what anthropology is to me.

My Internship with LearningWorks

Posted: December 12th, 2019 by tmares

Written by: Bronwyn Caswell-Riday

            Over the summer, I had the opportunity to intern with LearningWorks, a non-profit in Portland, Maine, dedicated to providing free community-based education programs for children and adults. I was working with their English Language+Literacy program, which focuses on teaching English language skills to immigrants and refugees in the community through one-on-one tutoring and conversation classes. I acted as an assistant teacher for summer conversation classes at the beginner and intermediate levels, helping to create a curriculum, write lesson plans, and actively teach students in the classroom.

            This internship allowed me an opportunity to both demonstrate and practice the skills I have acquired through my linguistics and anthropology majors. This knowledge was especially helpful when considering how a diverse group of students learn another language, as well as how students may think about language, what they expect from a language-learning classroom, and what factors outside of language may influence or impede their ability to learn. Anthropology has largely taught me to think outside of the box, seek creative solutions, and look for answers in places you wouldn’t think to find them. While teaching to a diverse and variable group of students, it was crucial for me to keep a mind so open the breeze could blow through, and be flexible and clever enough to formulate last-minute lessons that would be both relevant and beneficial to the students who happened to be there that day.

            Anthropology has also provided a framework for thought that has helped me to remain self-reflexive and critically engaged with how I interact with students and how I behave in the classroom more broadly. These qualities are crucial for a teacher, especially one who teaches to a diverse body of students. Being able to reflect upon and analyze myself, my positionality, and my own biases helped me to teach more effectively to students by allowing me to see where I might be hurting or hindering them in their learning and growth. My anthropological training helped me to understand and accept cultural differences, but also how to identify them. What some may consider to be rude or tactless may just be a matter of cultural norms, and the ability to identify these norms and then include them in a lesson proved valuable. For example, in our shopping unit, I discussed haggling with my students, what the cultural norms around it are in their countries, and where and when it is appropriate to haggle when shopping in America.

            Discussing these cultural differences explicitly and encouraging students to share their own language and culture in the classroom was one way I tried to combat undertones of colonialism and linguistic imperialism. While I wanted to help students improve their English, I also wanted to help them preserve their language and culture, reinforcing its importance while helping them to navigate and assimilate to American culture. Thanks to anthropology, I am very conscious of the power English has in the US and in the global sphere, and I wanted to make sure I fought against the narrative that to be American, they had to abandon all their languages and practices. Unfortunately, this is a belief that has become widespread, or at least more confidently shared, over the last few years.

            While I assumed this internship would be politically involved, it was political in ways I did not fully anticipate or expect. There were numerous times we discussed ICE in class or I had to explain infographics or pamphlets given to students about what to do if they were approached by immigration officers. We had many discussions about lawyers and presidents and corrupt governments, all of which I expected to be par for the course when working with new Mainers. What I didn’t expect was the reactions I would get from friends and acquaintances, how eager they were to share uninformed opinions and chuckle over xenophobic remarks. What was missing from all these discussions was how incredibly kind these students are, how much they value family and faith and community. What is missing in the minds of many are the universals.

            Anthropology may tend to look at how cultures across the world differ, but I think it’s also pretty good at showing us the things that are the same, the things that are important to everyone and the things that don’t change. After just one class with any of my students, it was so blatantly obvious to me how much we had in common, how much we all have in common. I would hope these similarities would be obvious to anyone else who spent just a little time with them, too. These people value family and love to make new friends, they value their faith and a sense of community. They want to love and be loved, they want to find where they fit in and they want to be accepted. This all starts with something I had the privilege of sharing countless times over the summer, and something I intend to continue to share after I leave UVM: a cup of tea, an open mind, and a good conversation.

My Internship with the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

Posted: November 11th, 2019 by tmares

By: Adelaide Szczesiul

Addie at her internship

Over the summer of 2019 and throughout the fall semester, I have been an intern for the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program, which is a field office of the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants in Colchester, Vermont. USCRI is devoted to assisting refugees and immigrants in receiving government benefits, finding jobs in their communities, and accessing educational services. My official title has been as the “Educational Empowerment Intern.” In this position, I have done a lot of administrative work (updating clients’ casenotes, tracking attendance for English classes, etc.). However, I also had the opportunity to conduct intake interviews, in which I talked with newly arrived refugees and assigned them to community-run English classes near their homes based upon their previous educational experiences. I attended and helped to teach English classes, and was even able to teach a class myself when a teacher needed a substitute one day in August. By assisting in classes, I’ve tried my best to communicate and form connections with people whose experiences and languages differ greatly from my own. As an anthropology major, I see cross-cultural communication as a skill that is invaluable, yet simultaneously impossible to perfect (I definitely have had a few slip-ups). I am grateful to have had this opportunity to connect with people I otherwise may never have met, and I do not doubt that I learned as much, if not more, from our time together as they did.

This experience has shown me how I can put the skills and knowledge I am developing in my anthropology classes to good use. In one of my classes, we have discussed the discipline of anthropology not as a rigidly-structured field of study in pursuit of objective truths, but as a unique frame of mind allowing for empathy and reflexivity, as well as critical reflection. I feel like an anthropologist when I am in the USCRI office not because I am conducting research, but rather because I am prompted to think like an anthropologist— this job has led me to practice empathy and strive to understand the experiences of people with whom I have little in common, including language, and to hold myself accountable when I make mistakes. But beyond empathizing with people on an individual level and reflecting on one’s own identity and positionality in relation to others, current anthropology is also about analyzing and working against unjust systems of power, such as the Trump administration’s “Muslim ban.”

My experience at USCRI has made me more aware than ever of the current political climate of the US, and its day-to-day impact on disenfranchised populations. The office is very quiet lately; with the Trump administration pushing to cut annual refugee admissions to nearly zero, every new arrival is a cause for celebration. The decrease in arrivals is, of course, not due to a decrease in people’s need for resettlement. The people who would be visiting our office and attending our English classes are out there, waiting to be allowed into our communities. I know that I will never forget the day USCRI was supposed to receive a large family from Somalia and due to Trump’s Muslim Ban, they never arrived. I’ve read heart-wrenching articles before about the thousands of families trapped for years in refugee camps, but it felt different to hold the paperwork of an individual family who was supposed to arrive on that day, to read their names and see their pictures and imagine the disappointment they must be feeling in that moment.

Because of this experience, I’ve decided that I want to continue advocating for and learning from refugees. I want to do what I can with the skills I have gained through anthropology to help push back against unjust systems of power, and through USCRI, I have discovered how I can make this happen. Several of the staff members at USCRI are Americorps VISTAs (Volunteers in Service to America). VISTAs receive government funding to work for a nonprofit for a year, usually spearheading some type of capacity-building project for the organization. I will graduate from UVM in May, and I am confident now that I want to be an Americorps VISTA the following year, hopefully working with refugee or immigrant populations wherever I am needed. I feel so lucky to have spent time at USCRI; not only has this experience supplied me with valuable knowledge and allowed me to practice the skills I have learned through anthropology, but it has also pushed me towards my next step. Though I know I will miss my time as a UVM student, I am now excited to continue working with nonprofits after graduation through Americorps.

2018 Global Health Anthropology Graduates

Posted: May 22nd, 2018 by dblom

This May 2018 eight of our Anthropology graduates completed the coursework needed for a global health focus in their major or minor.  Five of our seniors graduated with a Global Health Concentration in the Anthropology Major, including Siera Carusone, Alex Heeschen, Tabetha Luhn, Catie Owen, and Celina Rossier.  Three of our seniors graduated with a Global Health Focus in the Anthropology Minor, including Sarah Flaherty, Madeline Short, and Sonia Zaccheo.

Congratulations to all of our graduates for their hard work and careful planning!

In both the major concentration and the minor focus track, students complete all of the requirements for a regular Anthropology major or minor, while also making sure that a significant number of those courses focus on biological anthropology, medical anthropology, and/or global public health issues in cross-cultural perspective.

The department has offered courses in these areas for decades, but it was 2015 when we began to highlight related offerings in a set of informal tracks for majors and minors.  Based on the popularity of the focus, in 2017 we formally launched a Global Health Concentration in the Anthropology Major, which now stands alongside the continuing Global Health Minor Focus track.  For more information on studying Global Health in Anthropology at UVM, the links below provide helpful information:



Graduating Senior Profile: Alex Heeschen

Posted: May 21st, 2018 by dblom

submitted by Sofia Benito Alston (’21), UVM Anthropology CommTeam

Alex Heeschen is many things: hardworking, dedicated, intelligent, passionate and lively. This list clearly falls short, but provides an image of what he’s like. His UVM adventure began in 2014 and will be coming to a bittersweet end this May. When he arrived, Alex was a History major, but we all know what the Anthropology department is like: they lure you in and it becomes impossible to leave. He fell in love with the subject and quickly changed his major. History stayed a part of his life, but as a minor instead. It was anthropology professor Dr. Jeanne Shea who then helped him choose his concentration: global health.

Alex has very impressively managed to balance ROTC with his anthropology major, and has even found ways to bring them together. In his own words, anthropology is “extremely applicable to my current field of work. I’ve always been an ‘arts and soft sciences’ kind of person, and this felt like a field which blended the two together perfectly.” In one of his courses, Anthropology of Global Health (ANTH288), he designed a research proposal to study the effects of a team mentality in the military for seeking treatment for PTSD. When asked what impacts he felt anthropology had on ROTC, he had a lot to say: “I participated in a training exercise in Romania in the summer of 2016. Having a people-centered approach to the situations they presented us in training scenarios helped me communicate my ideas clearly and approach these situations with a broadened perspective. Being receptive and understanding of different ways of doing things are essential attributes for Army officers, and I truly believe that studying Anthropology has helped me develop the tools I need to succeed in this field.”

Alex being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, May 20, 2018

Alex had to learn how to balance his time between anthropology and ROTC, and, at times, it was complicated. Due to the strict training schedule imposed by the army, he was unable to carry out any summer research and felt he wasn’t able to take full advantage of all the academic opportunities available at UVM. However, this didn’t stop him from being an “anthropology cheerleader” around campus. He has spoken in many freshman classes and continually talks about the discipline in ROTC. How much he admires his academic home is clear in his praise: “The anthropology department gives you a great sense of community and is a very tight-knit group. The professors are real and approachable and are happy to help you along your college career path in any way they can.” He also spoke about some of his favorite courses such as Anthropology of Eastern Europe, Anthropology of Global Health, Archaeological Theory and Environmental Anthropology.

What’s next for Alex Heeschen, you may wonder? On June 9 of this year, he will report to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for five months of Field Artillery Officer Training. After that, on November 27, he will be reporting to Vilseck, Germany for his first assignment as part of the four-year active duty service obligation he owes the Army. After that, he hopes to get his Master’s Degree in Public Health and pursue a career in that field. He will be missed here at UVM, but we are all looking forward to seeing what incredible work he does in life. Good luck and goodbye Alex!


Congratulations to our 2018 Graduates!

Posted: May 20th, 2018 by dblom

Congratulations to our 2018 Department of Anthropology graduates as they line up for the ceremony.


Roisin Todd Receives Hannah Howard Prize and George Henry Perkins Award

Posted: May 19th, 2018 by dblom


submitted by Izzy Siedman, UVM Anthropology CommTeam





Haviland Medal for Outstanding Achievement in Anthropology: Catie Owen

Posted: May 18th, 2018 by dblom

submitted by Ava Benham (’18), UVM Anthropology CommTeam

Graduating senior Catie Owen has been awarded the W. A. Haviland Medal for Outstanding Achievement in Anthropology.  The Haviland Award is presented to a graduating senior who has demonstrated a strong commitment in finding solutions for real-world crises through the use of anthropological perspectives.

“I feel very honored to receive this award and have a lot of respect for the Anthropology Department here at UVM.  I have really found a sense of community within the department. It’s my home here… and think it is nice to know I am also seen as a member of this community. ”

Catie, who graduates with honors in Anthropology this weekend, explained that she had no idea what anthropology was until she got to college.  Some of the first conversations she had that were related to anthropology were on the topic of female genital mutilation (FGM) and cultural relativism. These conversations would take place among friends and individuals that lived in her dorm her first year in college.  “One of the girls on my hall was taking an anthropology class at the time and would come home with all of these interesting topics for debate. Often our hallway conversations turned to discussing the ethics surrounding the practice of FGM.”  She told me that these discussions helped spark an interest in Anthropology.

When Catie transferred to the University of Vermont as a sophomore, she decided to enroll in an introductory course in anthropology.  “I owe my commitment to Anthropology entirely to my professor Dr. Ben Eastman and his course in Cultural Anthropology.” She said that Ben was the one responsible for “converting” her to pursue the discipline.

In addition, another professor that greatly impacted her academic career was Dr. Jeanne Shea.  During the spring of her sophomore year, she took ANTH 174 Culture, Health and Healing. “I really liked how the course was more health-centered and could easily see real-world applications of anthropology where health was concerned.” This opened up some of her first conversations about brainstorming a thesis topic.  Jeanne’s role was also formative in the development of these ideas. “Jeanne Shea always has her door open to students who need guidance on coursework, independent projects, life advice… Throughout my time here she has helped shape my ideas about the world in many ways.”

“My thesis topic was about women’s agency and fulfillment in planned homebirths and planned cesarean births.” In her junior year, Catie studied abroad in Spain. “Jeanne Shea helped me plan around my time abroad so that I was able to conduct some preliminary research in London.”  Catie was able to meet with two prominent scholars whose research focuses on “women-centered” birthing techniques in planned cesareans, and these conversations helped ground the ethnographic research that she would conduct during her senior year.

“During my research, I conducted 11 interviews with providers and women who were having the types of births I was researching.”  The research focuses on women’s experiences of their births and how these experiences are culturally and socially influenced.

Catie feels that the importance of anthropology goes beyond the classroom and beyond academia.  “Anthropology is about sharing knowledge and deconstructing ethnocentric forms of thought.  I think it’s important to share that kind of thinking.  To me, anthropology is most about being a careful, kind, and conscientious person.”

One major leadership role Catie had was being a co-president of the Anthropology Club.  “One thing I really tried to do was initiate student outreach at Burlington High School.”  “I feel that it is important to expose young minds to anthropology and anthropological ways of thinking. I see a lot of potential for reconstructing the education system around anthropological principles.”  Sharing knowledge even with other students such as first- and second-year students is extremely important to her. She really enjoyed being a mentor and inspiring younger students during her time here with her passion for the discipline.

“I look at anthropology from a very moral perspective, even if that’s somehow a messy one.  That is why I am very passionate about it.  I see the future of Anthropology moving beyond academia, and looking for ways we can apply and cultivate these principals in young people.”

After graduation, Catie has plans to remain in Burlington and apply for jobs in the non-profit sector.  “I am definitely going to graduate school in the near future.  I want to continue to empower young people, especially young women – in whatever form that takes.”

James B. Petersen Archaeology Award: Sylvie Littledale

Posted: May 18th, 2018 by dblom

submitted by Sofia Benito Alston (’21), UVM Anthropology CommTeam

Sylvie Diana Littledale is this year’s recipient of the James B. Petersen Archaeology Award for an outstanding Anthropology graduate who is pursuing archaeology.

On April 16th, UVM celebrated its annual Student Research Conference where students get to discuss the research they have carried out. One of those students, Sylvie Diana Littledale, exhibited a poster on her fieldwork in to Peru and interactive maps she developed using GPS coordinates she collected throughout the trip.  Her supervising professor Dr. Deborah Blom reported, “Sylvie’s experiences have been invaluable in helping her to advance the research skills and anthropological theory that she learned at UVM to address important questions in anthropology and ethnohistory alike.  Her project has progressed from musings while abroad to a sophisticated and engaging thesis-length manuscript.”


After taking classes at UVM, Sylvie’s research began the summer after freshman year, in 2015, when she travelled down to Zaña, Peru with then UVM professor Dr. Parker Van Valkenburgh to work on his excavation site. She spent 2½ months there, during which time she met and worked with archaeologist Bradymir Bravo Meza. A year later, during her semester abroad in Argentina, she met with a colleague from Huarochirí and carried out archaeological surveys for a month. It was then she was first introduced to the Huarochiri Manuscript. The author is unknown, but speculated to be an indigenous scribe who wrote in Quechua using the Spanish alphabet. It is just very rare that a document of this type was written and survived.  It records oral histories such as myths, customs, festivals, conflicts and a rich geographical description of the area and terrain.  While Sylvie worked on the survey, she got to know the geography of the region and its many archaeological sites.

Sylvie’s fieldwork also allowed her to get to know the locals in the area, and she has been returning to this spot since 2016. Throughout the years, Sylvie began to form her own research project to collect oral traditions about place in different areas. Her original idea was to map the stories told to her, linking them to the Huarochirí manuscript, but the more time she spent getting to know the locals, the more her focus changed to modern legends. She worked in two villages with a total population of 47, including children, and spoke to all but one of the 29 adults there. Even though most stories told were told by more than one person, each individual had their own way of telling them.  Everyone was open and welcoming to her, excited about the opportunity at hand. To quote her directly “I hope that my gratitude to the communities of San Pedro de Llancha and San Antonio de Chinchina and to my colleagues down there, especially Bravo Meza, is expressed.”

Now all this sounds beautiful and poetic, but it was two months of very hard work. Planning for a trip this big is no easy task, so when she finally landed in Peru her plans were still very up in the air. She ended up staying in the local school, which was closed for summer vacations and had no bathroom or kitchen. Her diet consisted of potatoes, rice and noodles so you can all imagine that this past year back at UVM she has steered clear of all three. It was also during the rainy season so the trips between villages, or down to the city, would sometimes be impossible. The thick fog and heavy rains completely enveloped the villages. There’s no doubt that it was a very transformative experience for Sylvie.

Sylvie’s four years at UVM were also spread out elsewhere throughout the world as she studied abroad in Spain, Argentina and Hong Kong. “I was working on my Spanish in the first two places, but was able to focus more on anthropology in Hong Kong which is where I took a class “Making Places: Landscapes, Culture and Society” that was a big part of the inspiration to do the research I am doing now.” As Sylvie’s time at UVM is ending, an internship with UVM’s Consulting Archaeology Program (CAP), directed by anthropology Professor John Crock, has allowed her to build out her experience in the US. Sylvie is carrying out a variety of projects, including GIS training and working. “I worked cataloguing in the lab, I spent a lot of time working on processing data from previous sites in GIS, and I was able to go out in the field a few times.”


Sylvie will be graduating as a double major in Spanish and Anthropology, and will be moving to Utah to go to graduate school in Brigham Young University. The list of things she would like to do include doing more mapping, moving throughout Peru and working on doing a linguistic analysis. Here’s to a fantastic student that will be greatly missed!



Coffee break

Posted: May 7th, 2018 by sbenitoa

With the stress of finals it’s easy to forget to take care of oneself, so tomorrow (Tuesday) please stop by the anthropology department for some coffee and a nice pause. Good luck studying!

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